I’ve got three stickers on my laptop. They say “Maui Girl,” “Honu” and “Surf Naked.” Whenever I travel, I get a lot of comments at airport checks when I have to take my computer out of the bag. Most people smile and, especially on the West Coast, say things like “Greet the island for me.”
Usually such things come from Dickensian print shops in China, Indonesia or Thailand, but these three come from a 15 square-foot room in Paia. Rachel and Mark Williams make them.
“I have been working in graphic design for a long time and had been producing my own T-shirts for a while, when someone suggested the sticker production to me,” says Mark Williams as he types my first name into his computer. “I thought, if only I could a get one dollar from every tourist coming to the islands, I would be very happy. So we started the small sticker business which grew bigger quickly.”
At first they only designed their stickers promoting Hawaiian spirit and paid someone else to produce them, but then they bought their own plotter and began die-cutting the stickers themselves. They have to order the sticker backing—which comes in big rolls—but everything else is done on Maui.
By now Williams is really quick in his designing. As we talk I notice that he’s added a red hibiscus flower and put my name into a fancy type. “It’s a vector based program,” he says. “It’s all based on mathematical formulas and is ridiculously expensive. The plotter alone can cost you between $2,000 for a cheap one, up to $75,000.”
Both Mark and Rachel work their normal day jobs at Silk Graphics and Moonbow Tropics respectively, then put in late hours on their sticker business.
“Sometimes he gets up at 4 a.m. to cut stickers, goes to work around seven and then continues to work on the stickers when he gets back from work at 7 p.m.,” says Rachel as her husband pulls off extra vinyl from a huge sheet of honu stickers. This is called “weeding,” and it takes a long time because you have to take care not to destroy the stickers.
“I used to go real slow and pull it design by design, but now I’ve gotten braver and just pull the whole sheet and then concentrate on the small pieces,” says Mark.
The busy couple says they produce more than 2,000 stickers every month, in six different colors and various sizes. They sell regularly to more than 10 shops on Maui.
“Our designs represent the lifestyle on Maui,” says Rachel while her husband weeds off the vinyl around my name and the flower next to it. “They show what we love about it and we are proud that we sell to tourists and locals alike.”
They still tend to keep their sticker business fairly small, though they could get a lot bigger.
“We are getting many requests and sometimes a lot at the same time,” says Rachel. “When it rains it pours, but we don’t want to disappoint our loyal long-term customers, so we have to reject work sometimes. It really is a question for us right now if we want to take this leap.”
Sometimes they work all-nighters to finish an urgent special order. “In October we just did the big Red Bull banner for the King of The Air contest,” says Rachel. “It had to be done within 24 hours and we really should’ve had some Red Bull to stay awake since we worked all night. We were even invited to their big party but were so tired we didn’t go. But we did pull off the job in 24 hours.”
By now, Mark has sealed the top of my name sticker with clear vinyl and is cutting it to the right size, giving me a new, one-of-a-kind sticker for my laptop. It’s no “Surf Naked,” but I’m sure airport security guards around the world will love it. MTW